He Was Just An Ordinary Guy Or Was He?

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We tend to believe changing the world means we need to be out there, preaching, speaking, and occasionally being loud because we want to be heard. Isn’t that what the world wants us to believe?

I am incredibly sad today because a friend died. He was young, my son’s age, and that is when I first met David Paal Jr., as a little boy. I must admit over the next forty-some years I lost track of him. We moved and my son changed schools and we didn’t move back to our home community for ten years when my son was grown.

I connected with Dave again a few years ago because I began to see his photos on his media pages. They were breathtaking. As an author, I wanted to try my hand at creating my own book covers. I could see my stories and plots in Dave’s pictures so I messaged him and asked if I would be able to use one of his pictures for my cover. He immediately said yes. We met for coffee so we could hash out the details.

As we chatted I found a humble man with a great sense of humor. His photos were a part of who he was and how he saw the world, yet he didn’t seem to realize how special his talent was. He wasn’t out to make money just to share his love of his hobby. In fact, when I suggested ways he could make money with his talent he seemed to only want to pass the joy onto others.

We chatted recently, him giving me permission again to use his photos in a couple of new book covers, one to update a cover from a past photo I used, and another for my new book coming out in March. Again, his generous attitude registered with me. I am so happy I was able to share both covers with him before he left this earth to use his talents in heaven. I can only imagine the landscape he is seeing through his eyes.

I don’t like to use the word ordinary for anyone because each person is unique, but yet for this blog, I am going to use the word ordinary to describe Dave, even though he was extraordinary. The reason for this is we view those who influence us in the world as different than us ordinary joe’s that keep the world running, working everyday jobs in industries that are not recognized as careers that leave a mark or influence anyone. They are quiet, in the background people, some of who we don’t see because of their ability to keep us going and we take them for granted.

Dave was an ordinary guy with an ordinary job and a fabulous hobby that he excelled at quietly. He was kind, funny, and humble. Yet, this man influenced people on a wide-reaching basis in his quiet way of those he worked with and reaching out to the world with his photography, sharing it on social media so the rest of the world could for a few moments see the breathtaking work that God created.

Seeing his photo’s you knew who Dave was. He let us know through the pictures he took. He loved his country, he loved the communities he was part of, showing those of us that live here through his photographs what we miss every day, because we aren’t looking. He gave us the gift of seeing the beauty of our lives through the lens.

Dave loved nature and old buildings, but most of all he loved his family. His son, his mom, dad, and his sister and her family. Through any difficulties in life, I would say he had his priorities right.

Dave Paal, Jr., you changed lives. I do not think you realized how far-reaching your influence was. You will be missed and always remembered. Thank you for sharing your love of photography with us and for showing us and showing me what true generosity is.

Be An Encourager, Not a Discourager

My column from the Albert Lea Tribune, October 24, 2016

yellow-chair-purposeOver the past few years when I speak at an author event, someone always asks me if I knew I wanted to become a writer when I was in grade school. I usually come up with an off-hand answer because I was never quite sure when the spark of creativity was born in my life. I knew it wasn’t during my elementary school years because I pretty much felt as if I wasn’t very smart or didn’t have much to offer.

It wasn’t until I listened to author Allen Eskens highlight his years in school that the lightbulb came on in my own brain. Listening to his story about his challenges in the school systems, I came to understand I wasn’t alone in my interest or noninterest in formal education in my youth. I’ve always felt guilty about the fact I didn’t live up to my potential, at least that is what my teachers and parents felt. Now I realize it wasn’t so much about my learning ability as the system of learning back in my youth. Finally I feel vindicated and relief knowing the way I learn and my interests were at the root of the problem. In my day one size fit all.

I love to sing. But I quit singing and didn’t go out for chorus in high school because I felt I wasn’t good enough. One year in grade school I would get a C or D in singing and another year I would get an A or B. I was told I had no potential when it came to song. No one bothered to tell me I could improve. And later on in my life I was told by a director I was not good enough for a small church group choir, so I even quit the larger group choir I had joined because I felt I didn’t measure up, even though that director was encouraging. I chose to believe the other one. My joy of singing was gone.

I have always loved painting and creating artwork. Again, I didn’t take art in high school because I was told in grade school I had no talent. And I believed it — after all, didn’t my teachers know best. To be fair, art and musical talent weren’t as valued as today, so to most people it was more important to excel in math and geography and writing and history and english. I excelled in none of them either. I was pretty much a C student in grade school, unless I liked something and then my grade would come up to an A or B. I pretty much felt as if I didn’t have potential, and I was told time and time again I lived in a dream world because I liked to day dream, and I was made to feel that was not appropriate.

I entered high school and I loved the social part of high school but wasn’t enamored with the subjects. I realize now after thinking about Allen’s talk that I was bored. I wasn’t interested in the subjects. Add to the fact I had one class where the teacher had everyone write down what they liked about someone or didn’t like and then put it in a box and each person got their notes. Maybe it made everyone else feel good but I wasn’t one of them, although most of the comments were positive, we always dwell on the negative.

It wasn’t until my junior year in high school that I signed up for a speech class. I was discouraged from taking it by others telling me I couldn’t cut it, but it saved my life. I found something I loved along with drama and creative writing in my English class. My grades turned around, and I felt better about the activities I enjoyed. I loved to write and thought about going to school for journalism, but because of my own insecurities I spent some time in college and then I quit and entered the job market.

I realize how much different my life might have been if I would have received encouragement and lived in a different time when the arts were valued. If I wouldn’t have let the outside voices override my inside voices.

I flitted around at different jobs in my adult life while raising my children with my husband, but it wasn’t until I entered a job as a secretary or office manager and ended up a computer technician that I felt perhaps I had a good brain. All of this happened because someone believed in me. When I was offered the secretarial job, I hadn’t worked in that area for 30 years, yet I was offered a job without applying for it. The person said he saw my potential on computers and knew I could re-learn what I had forgotten. After a few years I was trained to become a computer technician, and I loved it. It wasn’t anything that had been on my radar, but because someone believed in me I was given a chance and I found an unusual career for a woman my age.

And then my old friend Cherry re-entered my life and asked me what happened to my writing. She had fully expected I would be an author by now. She believed in me, and it was because of that belief I had enough courage to send my manuscript in and was offered a contract with a publishing company. Another old friend, Charlotte, entered my life a littler later and encouraged me to paint. And now I am painting.

Because someone believed in me it helped wipe out those voices I heard when I was in grade school. I have a brain, but it is wired differently and creativity is my muse. All of us are smart in different ways, and we need to let our children know whatever their learning ability is, if it is different from another’s, it is their life’s journey and it is valued.

I have a granddaughter who is taking cooking and interior design in seventh grade, both things she loves. I have a grandson that is writing a book, but recently someone must have discouraged him because he sent me a text saying he was not going to finish his book because it was childish and he needed to learn more before he could write the book. I have read what he wrote and he should not stop. He should be encouraged, not discouraged.

I might not be the best writer, the best painter, the best singer, but if it gives me joy to do those things I will do them to the best of my ability. Everyone is an artist and  their canvas and talent is uniquely their own, whether it be painting, writing, math, geography or space exploration. If artists quit hearing their voices and only listen to the outside voices of the world today, we might have missed some great people.

I am going to keep encouraging my grandson to write if that is what he wants to do. But if he wants to try something else I will encourage that, too. We encourage our children to try different sports and laud them for it, but finally it is accepted to encourage the arts, too.

In my heart I knew I wanted to be a writer all my life, but I didn’t give myself permission to accept that part of myself because I didn’t want to labeled a dreamer. And now, call me a dreamer, that’s who I am and I am proud of it.

Be an encourager, not a discourager. You might be encouraging the next Nobel Peace Prize winner.

Watercolor Artist Charlotte Laxen

From the show at the Interchange

From the show at the Interchange

When I meet someone with talent I admire I swoon. I have never been a groupie for rock bands but if the word expanded to artists or authors the name would fit.

I am not shy of name dropping about those I have met who are famous in their world such as in my author world. Since at heart I feel as if I have the heart of an artist I have added painting to my groupie world and one of the people I follow is Watercolor Artist Charlotte Warmka Laxen.

I can claim knowing her, since high school in fact. We have maintained a friendship over the years but recently have reconnected and spent more time together.

So today I would like to share the artwork and story of my friend Charlotte in her own words.

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Creating has been part of my life since I was a little girl. My love for watercolor began when I took my first class from Gerald Korte at St.Cloud State University where I received my B.S. in Art Education in 1972. My passion for watercolor began after my first trip to France in 1991. I have been blessed over the past years to receive both emerging and career grants from the Southwest Minnesota Arts and Humanities Council with funds appropriated by the McKnight Foundation to help me continue to move forward in my artistic growth and recognition.

Having seriously been painting in watercolor over 24 years, I still continue to find new ways to get excited about the beauty and expressive qualities of this medium! I am presently exploring painting watercolor on canvas!

I generally paint in my studio but also venture outdoors often to paint as well. I began my journey to teach myself “plein aire” (outdoor) painting by painting the “Arboretum Through the Seasons”-an eighteen month period of painting at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum from 2005-2006. This was followed by a show in their Reedy Gallery from Oct-Dec. of 2006 which shared this journey!

The privilege of teaching watercolor painting in Monet’s Gardens in Giverny France, through a school called Art-Study Giverny, was realized both in 2007 and 2009 and I have also painted in many different regions of France over the years. My work is found in private collections in the U.S., France and Australia.

I still find my passion in French themes or from this inspiration at the core of each new subject I choose. Even more importantly to me, the past few years, I have been able to share my personal Christian faith in many God inspired paintings such as Rabboni and the Lion of Judah. (see faith gallery) I love to share God’s amazing provision to encourage others. I was born and raised in rural southern Minnesota, a farmers daughter and the 7th of 8 children. I am the mother of two wonderful adult children and the grandmother of six. I have a deep love for God, people and painting. I have enjoyed sharing my home with people and students from France and other countries.

I was an art teacher part time in the Minnesota school system from 1973-1988 and presently, in addition to painting, I teach private lessons and  group workshops in watercolor. I have a new desire to offer opportunities that will allow art to bring people healing and to a closer walk with God.

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On Saturday I attended an Art Exhibit at The Interchange in Albert Lea, Minnesota featuring Charlotte’s work. A couple of weeks ago I took my first watercolor class with Charlotte and visiting her show I could understand better what she does to create her beautiful paintings. So I am a follower not only of her artwork but of the way she chooses to live her life inspiring others. Please take time to visit her website http://www.charlottelaxen.com and support her artwork, put one of her masterpieces on your wall or attend one of her classes. I guarantee you will come away inspired.

Vicki, Charlotte, Sue and Sue.

Vicki, Charlotte, Sue and Sue.